Stephen J. Lee, Forum Communications, Published November 26 2012
Manvel teen gets 12 years for providing lethal synthetic drugs
One of 11 charged in a Grand Forks synthetic drug conspiracy, Sweeney is the first to be sentenced for causing death and bodily injury.
Sweeney admitted buying two hallucinogens on June 10 from Adam Budge, now 19, in East Grand Forks, Minn., and then providing the drugs to Bjerk and the 15-year-old, identified only as C.J., in an apartment in Grand Forks. Bjerk drove him to Budge’s home to buy the drugs and later to a party in Grand Forks, Sweeney said.
About 5:45 a.m., June 11, Bjerk was found dead on a nearby lawn. C.J. and Sweeney, who also took the drugs, were found nearby, disoriented and incoherent, and were hospitalized.
Facing a federal charge that carries a maximum sentence of life in prison and a 20-year mandatory minimum sentence, Sweeney took a plea deal in late August.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Chris Myers has identified Andrew Spofford, 22, as the “hobby chemist,” who ordered chemicals from Europe, Asia and Houston to make the hallucinogens in his rented home near the University of North Dakota. In less than a week, the drugs killed two and led to serious health issues for a handful of others, including juveniles, Myers said.
Bjerk died June 11. Elijah Stai, 17, died June 15 in Altru Hospital after taking the drug June 13 in East Grand Forks.
“I want to take this time to apologize to the family of Christian, and my family and the community,” said Sweeney before U.S. Judge Ralph Erickson imposed a sentence. “Christian was one of my best friends, and I never wanted any harm to come to him.”
He blamed years of addiction to drugs for clouding his judgment.
About 32 family members and friends of Sweeney, including two Catholic priests, filled one side of the courtroom. Several, including Sweeney’s parents, Mary Jo and Robert Sweeney, read prepared statements to Erickson emphasizing Sweeney’s problems with drug addiction. His father said his dream was that his son would finish high school and college and return to take over the family farm near Manvel, N.D.
About 10 family members and friends of Bjerk sat on the other side of the room. His parents, Keith and Debbie Bjerk, gave tearful statements about the impact of his death.
“I go to the cemetery every day and pray the rosary with my son,” Keith Bjerk said.
Sweeney’s attorney, David Dusek, told Erickson that Sweeney did not sell any drugs to Bjerk or C.J., but took the drugs himself, too, in a tragic “nightmare,” that started with three friends partying.
Sweeney put the powdered hallucinogen in “lines” on a table and offered it to anyone, ingesting some himself. “He didn’t encourage anyone else to take it,” Dusek said.
Sweeney faced a maximum sentence of life in prison and a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years, based on the death of Bjerk and injury to C.J., the 15-year-old boy who spent two days in intensive care in Altru Hospital.
Based on the circumstances of Sweeney’s case, including prior criminal history, federal sentencing guidelines indicated a range of about 21 years to 27 years, according to statements in court.
Myers recommended 13½ years, saying Sweeney had provided timely help to the investigation that led to several other sources in Grand Forks as well as outside of North Dakota.
“We are pleased with this sentence and feel justice was done,” Myers said after the hearing.
Stephen J. Lee writes for the Grand Forks Herald